Best Atmospheric Experience 2010 – Ethos

Mass Effect 2
*WARNING: Many extreme Mass Effect 2 spoilers are detailed below*

Very few games can control my heartbeat like Mass Effect 2. It plays the thing like a harp. Slowing down, speeding up, sometimes stopping completely. At the beginning of the game when Commander Shepard is running through the collapsing Normandy and finally makes her way to the bridge, the fearless commander is forced to slow to a walk. The music cuts away, and all that’s left is the sound of Shepard’s breathing through her helmet and spacesuit while the player notices a beautiful and horrible view of a closeby planet because the majority of the roof of the spaceship has been ripped off.

This is just one example, and unlike God of War III’s tactic of saving the best for first, this moment is consistently matched and conquered throughout the experience.

Choosing to kill Samara or her daughter, boarding and exploring a dead reaper, stumbling upon a cannibalistic slave society, hearing Harbinger’s voice issue philosophical threats as you flee a structure set to explode. This is a game that is so alive and thick with atmosphere that it is the only game in which I don’t mind being a little scared from time to time. Granted, Mass Effect is very rarely a scary series, but the point is that I’m so drawn into the world that it’s like I have no choice but to trek on until completion.

While some people love to play through multiple times to see all the possible reactions and outcomes, I’m so sold by Mass Effect’s atmosphere that I can’t do it. I have played through 1 and 2 one time because it makes no sense any other way to me.

Mass Effect 2 is dark and depressing and epic and varied and occasionally a little twisted, and you can feel it with every step. I might prefer the first game, but Mass Effect 2 is an atmospheric masterpiece.

Runner up: Darksiders

I could chose Heavy Rain, but I’m going to use an excuse that I just bashed earlier in these awards and admit that I hate that game too much to pick it. Epic Mickey even had a fair shot at #2, but I’m too let-down by its technical shortcomings.

Darksiders surprised me in not only how much fun it was, but in how dense some parts of the world felt. It was nowhere close to Mass Effect territory, and I can assume improvement for the sequel, but it would be silly to deny that I didn’t feel the hopelessness and ruin throughout the experience.

Darksiders jumped from creepy to epic to surprisingly pretty with ease, and the world felt cohesive and exciting to explore. Not to mention that the lead character, War was treated by enemies with fear and respect along with the typical malice. Not a common reaction from terrifying looking baddies.

As I talk about it, maybe this – more than DeathSpank – was the second game that Riddles was too stupid to play. He likes God of War, he likes Zelda, he likes pretty things and great atmosphere, and he pretends to like good games, so suck it up and buy this one, Olivia!

Oh, and both Mass Effect and Darksiders have good music. That helped the atmosphere in both.

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